I don’t really know where to start with this one, so I’ll just dive right in.
This past Sunday I ran the Long Beach Marathon. I went into it with high hopes of a personal best of sub 3:30 and come out with an official result of DNF.
DNF. Did Not Finish.
In reality I actually did finish. I actually did cross the finish line. I actually even got a medal.
I tried to walk through the line without being given a medal, but a really nice volunteer made sure one got placed around my neck. But I’m getting way too ahead of myself. Let me go back a few hours.
I wake at 2:45am even though my alarm wasn’t set to go off until 2:50am. See, Daisycat had me and hubby up at 2am (yes, we brought our cat furkid Daisy to Long Beach with us, along with our 2 doggie furkids Sparkle and Sunshine). So, sick and tired of all the persistent meowing, we finally just get up and I make our breakfast. It’s not such a bad thing, I mean maybe I should be thanking Daisy, as we wanted to be finished eating by 3am anyways. LOL! Badass cat.
At 3am pretty much on the nose, we are eating our creamy coconut Qi’a oatmeal with honey and a sliced banana, and I’m drinking my matcha green tea. I also mix up 16 ounces of Skratch matcha flavoured exercise hydration and this is what I drink over the next hour. Although I’m super nervous, I’m able to just relax, slowly get ready and reflect on the training I’ve put into this marathon. These past 12 weeks have been full on the most intense training I’ve ever put into a marathon – more than any of the past 17 marathons I’ve run. I’ve followed the direction of my coach pretty much to the letter and averaged 115km per week with key workouts that showed me my fitness is where it needs to be. I know my body is capable of running the sub 3:30 I’ll ask of it today.
At 4:30am, hubby and I each have 1 banana muffin – I made a dozen on Monday and these are the last two. They served us well for our carb-loading, along with the banana bread and energy bars I’d also made. At 5:00am, I shoot back my triple shot espresso. We went out last night to get a Jamba Juice and there was little coffee shop right beside it. I knew it’d be highly unlikely I’d find an open coffee shop at 5am this morning, so I’d grabbed that up in advance. It’s cold, but it’s gone in a second, and I’m so glad I don’t have to go searching for an open coffee shop only to come up disappointed. Hubby takes caffeine pills. He knows I’m not a fan of the caffeine pills, but he hates coffee. Plus pretty much all the elites do the caffeine pills. I may even have been the one to suggest caffeine pills to him.
Anyway, we’re all caffeinated up and ready to go. Just before we walk out the door, I shoot back my BeetElite mixed with water. Ergogenic aids done. Everything has thus far gone incredibly smoothly. Last nights dinner had been white rice and tomato sauce with a few carrots and asparagus. Not on the menu, but when I’d asked they’d done up a plate for me and it was perfect. I am feeling very good.
We leave the hotel and head down to the start line. It’s dark… And quite warm. In fact it is 24 degrees Celsius and 60% humidity. I’m pretty much nearly sweating. This makes me nervous. I should most certainly not begin sweating before racing. This is not good. But I shove my anxieties over the heat to the side as we search for the start line and portapotties with a short line up. Everything thus far has gone just right – I’d even go so far to say perfectly – and there’s no reason this can’t continue.
All set to race, we make our way into the start corral and weave our way through everyone right to the front. I wait and chat with hubby. With this all going so smoothly so far, including a day of feet up and relaxation yesterday and all our pre-race rituals gone perfectly, we literally could not have asked for anything better.
Except for the temperature. Our shakeout run the day before had exposed us to a taste of what we were in for today… And it was bad. But this was race day, and somehow on race day the temperature is going to be more manageable. Right?!!
At 5 minutes to race start, which is scheduled for 6am, I kiss hubby good luck and make my way back through the racers until I am positioned behind the 3:25 pace bunny. And I wait. And wait. It feels like the race start is late. Indeed it is. But finally, the gun goes off. At 6:08 we are off.
The minute I start running I know immediately that I am in trouble. The air feels so heavy and I am already sweating buckets. I sweat very easily and the first thing that happens is sweat pours off my elbows. I must run just behind hubby when we’re running together otherwise my elbow sweat flicks onto him and that’s just gross. I’m totally dripping elbow sweat everywhere at the moment. I hope no one is beside me. I don’t dare look.
It’s a very conservative first kilometre. But I’m following the 3:25 pace bunny, likely a mistake, and so my second kilometre clicks in too fast at a 4:45/km. I know that although it is the pace I’d need for a 3:21, it’s too fast because unlike other races where a 4:45/km has felt ridiculously easy, this actually feels far too fast. I’m pushing too much. I definitely still have race adrenaline pumping through me, but it’s wearing fast.
I follow everyone along the dark roads lit by street lights, up and over ramps, over a bridge… Around… Back over. By the 4th kilometre, I am well aware that today will not be my day and I’m forced to back off my pace as I can feel the heat literally draining my energy. I see cameras and put on my game face – just in case this is my day I need some good pictures right?!!
At this point I make a conscious decision not to look at my pace again. I already feel so awful I know it’s game over, so maybe now I should just slow down a bit until I see the 3:35 pace bunny and then attempt to stick with him. I’m waving good-bye to my personal best goals and grieving just as I hit the beach path. Which is absolutely gorgeous. So is the fireball in the sky ahead of me. It’s also extremely scary because I know once the sun rises, it’s going to get even hotter. And it’s only 12km in and I’m already dying.
I run along the beautiful beach path. I take in as much of the beauty as possible and try to enjoy myself. But I’m SO FREAKING thirsty already. I’ve grabbed water from every station so far, and honestly they can’t come up fast enough. I start grabbing two cups from each station – eventually I worry I might be taking in too much plain water without electrolytes but I can’t stop.
When I hear a group coming up behind me I know it’s the 3:35 group. I also know there’s no way I’m going to be able to do any picking up of my pace to stay with them. Sure enough, they pass me, and all to quickly disappear.
Just after I leave the beach path, at 16km in, the separation point for half and full is just ahead of me. At this point I seriously consider calling it quits and parting ways with the full marathon to go it in with the half’ers. I’m struggling so badly and it’s so hot I can barely breathe right. I definitely can’t seem to get enough water into me (which is always the case for me in heat and humidity, no matter how well hydrated I am).
I decide at the last second to continue on, because dammit I’m at least going to go the distance. But it’s an epic struggle, an awful one – not the struggle of speed, I can work through that – it’s a struggle of fighting a body that is trying to shut down. I wish I knew what my heart rate was – I’m sure it was sky high, pretty much from the very start.
In hot conditions, less blood flows to the heart because it’s going instead to the skin to help cool the body. This decreases cardiac filling and stroke volume, and so the heart rate skyrockets in order to sustain the workload. With the increased stress placed on the heart, we reach our maximum intensity far sooner than we should because the heart is working that much harder.
Plus those who sweat buckets (um, ME) increase their blood viscosity which also puts more stress on the heart. I don’t know why I deal so much more terribly in the heat than others (aka my hubby who hardly sweats and the heat only took 3 minutes away from a personal record for him). Sometimes I blame my half pack a day habit from age 16 to 22 for my perceived ‘weaker’ heart. It may not be the case or it may be, but at least it gives me a distorted sense of comfort that I can only blame my younger more foolish self for my inability to deal well in heat.
As I approach the half way point, I’m beyond disappointed. The heat and my extreme disappointment at what this race is turning out to be is setting in and playing with my mind. I want to stop and cry but I don’t. I keep running… And walking through the water stations, grabbing as many cups as I can.
At about km 26, I have to stop and walk because all of a sudden I cannot breath. I’m literally gasping for air. I still can’t breath as I walk – it’s the same as when I used to have exercise induced asthma attacks, way back in 2006-2008. Eventually I finally can breathe and so begin shuffling again. I turn into California State University campus and someone passes me. As he does he says something about what a crazy hot day it is. I reply with something sarcastic and subsequently remind myself to keep my mouth shut from there on in, as clearly nothing nice is going to come out. He says oh you never know it could be a PR day after all, and I’m like yah… NOPE.
The 3:45 pace bunny passes me. At that point I’m again reminded of how far off my goal I’ll finish at. I stop and walk again. I’m completely dejected. I can’t think of how I could get back to the start via a shorter route as now I know I’ve come all the way to the furthest point out, plus I know I’m not actually injured or dying. I just feel like it. But I am done.
My left knee has been hurting for the past couple hours, pretty much from the start, but clearly I can still walk and run. I fell two days ago as hubby and I went out in the pitch black near our hotel in Sacramento for an easy run. I slammed down onto my left knee. We cut the run short at 2km. I thought my knee was okay, but it’s the same one that began acting up last week and the week before when I was “fat-loading” and cut out my tart cherry juice among most other carbs. I injured it so long ago I can’t even remember what the original cause of the pain I keep at bay with my daily tart cherry juice. Fat-loading has worked very well before for me in the past, but next time I’m keeping my tart cherry juice in the picture.
I’m now stopping to walk every few minutes, and always through every water station. I start walking more. At this point I know I can make it to the finish line, but I’m completely devastated and this no longer feels like a race. I’ve completely checked out. This is my 18th marathon. I didn’t come here today to finish… I came with a very specific goal in mind. Sub 3:30. Because I spent the last 3 months thinking of nothing else, pouring more hours into training than ever before, I can’t seem to flip the switch. My performance driven mindset won’t back down. Probably because it’s this mindset that got me through the intensity of training over the last 12 weeks. Running to finish… Running for fun… That is awesome and exactly where I plan to go with running next – but at the moment it’s all about performance.
Eventually I get to the point where I do not want my time registered. I’d prefer to officially DNF. Childish or not, I’m so deflated that it seems perfectly rational in the moment. I hate what this day has turned into. Again I want to sit down and cry, but I need to meet hubby at the finish line – he’ll be worried if I don’t get there soon.
I tear my timing chips off my bib and toss them into a garbage can, in a very calculated move.
The moment I toss my timing chips, the pressure is lifted and I start chatting nicely with the people alongside me who are also struggling in the heat. I end up spending the last 10km walk/running to the finish line.
With about 5km left to go, an amazing person is standing on the side of the road is offering ice cubes to the runners. He dumps 3 ice cubes into my hands and they might as well have been gold. I rub them over the back of my neck and my arms until they disappear. The next kilometre absolutely feels better.
At about the point the ice cube high wears off, a young kid offers me a freezie. A freezie! I’ve not had one of these things in like 20 years!! I happily take it, it’s a red one, and slowly savour every bite. The guy beside me, he’s walking too, mentions how great the freezies are. He’s got one too. I begin chatting with him and his friend and I even laugh. A lady on the side of the road cheering runners on tells us all to get going, we are looking too relaxed. So I tell them I must go, and jog away. I can hear them try to keep up, but then start walking again.
These last 3km are killing me and feeling extremely long because I know how close I am but the finish line just isn’t showing up, plus there is like, NO WATER. I am still dying despite the pressure that had been lifted a few kilometres ago by tossing my timing chips. I’ve walked so much. But walking makes this thing bearable… Doable.
Finally, I see the finish line. I don’t want any pictures taken of me. I consider placing my hand over my bib to prevent any pictures identifying me. I only want to cross and cover my face somehow. I’m so embarrassed. Not to mention irrational. Luckily, the minute I cross I am handed a cool damp towel which I immediately put over my face and begin balling into.
I make my way by all the food being offered, none of which I want – I only want water. I am still so so so thirsty. I see none but I do see other finishers with water in their hand, so, frustrated, I turn back and finally find the water… Still crying into my towel. I make my way quickly out of the finishers chute and head to where hubby and I agreed to meet. Before I make it there, he finds me, puts his hand on my back and turns me into him. I rest my head on his shoulder and he lets me cry it out for a few minutes. Eventually he calms me down.
I know that technically I ‘finished’ the race, but in my mind it was a DNF because I did not run or finish the race I set out to run. The race I’d hoped for went out the window almost as soon as it began. While I’ve debated whether or not tearing off my timing chips was irrational, I’m still glad I did it – although perhaps not proud of it. Regardless, it’s an odd action I must now live with as part of my marathon racing history!
I knew before this race began that heat shuts me down. I knew before the gun went off that I am incapable of racing well in the heat. I hope I learned my lesson through this experience that my body is such that I cannot perform well in the heat. No matter how much I think I can train harder and defy my body’s inability to deal with heat – I will never, ever be able to race well in the heat. It sounds like giving up, but I hope moving forward that I can learn to see it as simply knowing my limitations and planning strategically within them.
This race may have been a disastrous one and one that I needed a few days to bounce back from (psychologically that is, not physically… physically I’ve already gone for a run today and my body feels only like it did a long training run 2 days ago), but I’m beginning to come around.
Immediately it felt like an epic waste of 12 weeks of training, but I’m now feeling as though all is not lost. While I thought I’d now be in off-season mode for the remainder of the year, I am now strategizing how I might turn things around and use this training for a personal best in the marathon after all.
Maybe Seattle at the end of November… To be confirmed… But if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that I’m not giving up until I reach my goal of sub 3:30 and ultimately sub 3:21.
For now, I’m totally taking the next week to vacation in San Diego… But stay tuned, I’ll be back soon!